Put the “No New Runway” option back on the table, AEF tells Sir Howard Davies
Writing in the Huffington Post, James Lees ( (Research and Communications Officer, Aviation Environment Federation – AEF) says the Airports Commission is wrong in its preliminary conclusion – announced by Sir Howard Davies on 7th October – that a new runway is needed. In his blog James goes through the list of strong arguments why no new runway capacity is needed. These include climate impacts. The CCC guidance suggests the number of air passengers could perhaps rise by 60% over 2005 levels, by 2050. However, this does not take any account of the non-CO2 impacts of air travel. Even allowing for 60% more passengers means the carbon emissions from UK aviation would rise to be a quarter of total UK emissions and require large carbon reductions from other sectors to meet the UK’s 2050 target. And if a runway is built, how do we put the brakes on the aviation industry’s growth? James concludes that Sir Howard is aware of all these arguments, but has made the wrong conclusion. “To show that he really is ‘alive to the climate change problem’, Sir Howard should put the no new runway option back on the table.”
Put the No New Runway Option Back on the Table, Sir Howard Davies
Earlier this month, Sir Howard Davies, head of the Airports Commission and the main man tasked with examining the need for extra runway space in the UK, made his first public speech since consulting stakeholders in the airports debate. Sir Howard started well; he spoke of the importance of meeting our national carbon targets, the availability of existing space for more flights, and the uncertainty of what future demand for flying will look like as strong reasons against creating more runway space. But he made the wrong conclusion that we need a new runway in the UK. Now I would like to correct him.
On climate change, Sir Howard’s message was confusing. On the one hand he emphasised how “we (the Airports Commission) are alive to the climate change problem”, while on the other Sir Howard stipulated that additional runway capacity is necessary in the UK. This runs contrary to Lord Nicholas Stern’s advice from his groundbreaking 2007 report on the economics of climate change, in which he highlighted the dangers of investing in what he calls “new carbon intensive infrastructure”. Unfortunately, a new runway is exactly that – carbon intensive infrastructure – and once the concrete sets, it will be used to the max, irrespective of the future climate impact and the availability of solutions.
Growth of the UK aviation industry and combating climate change are not mutually exclusive by any means. Indeed, as Sir Howard Davies said, passenger demand could grow by up to 60% and still allow us to meet our national carbon target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. Allowing such growth, however, would boost emissions from flying up to a quarter of total UK emissions and require large carbon reductions from other sectors to meet our 2050 target.
The Committee on Climate Change, the body relied on by government to advise on climate change, believes such alternative reductions are achievable. Yet should other sectors carry the burden of cutting emissions so that this one industry can continue to grow? And if a runway is built, how do we put the brakes on the aviation industry’s growth?
The second question is particularly pertinent today. If the industry grows more than 60% then further measures are needed to limit and reduce emissions than relying on improvements in technology. The main one identified is carbon trading. However, there’s now huge uncertainty there. In one fell swoop, the UN body responsible for aviation effectively nullified the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and made only vague commitments towards a global scheme.
So there is no guarantee that aviation’s future emissions will be limited or have offsets elsewhere. This is why Sir Howard’s conclusion can be called into question. A sensible alternative is to have the no new runway option available. There is sufficient capacity in the UK’s current airports to accommodate the 60% growth of the industry that might be possible within our climate commitments. And this spare capacity is largely available in the regions where the demand arises.
Of course, many of us fly occasionally. We go on holiday, we visit friends and family or we do business, and we would like to know that we will be able to continue to do so in the future. But most of us also believe that climate change is a problem that we have to do something about. As a nation we have a carbon target that makes us a leader on climate change. If we are to meet that target, we have to remove a hell of a lot of carbon from our lifestyles. That doesn’t mean we should stop flying but allowing runway expansion now will increase the size of our future challenge.
Sir Howard Davies is aware of all of this but he made the wrong conclusion in his speech. To show that he really is “alive to the climate change problem”, Sir Howard should put the no new runway option back on the table.
See also the GACC response to Sir Howard:
Is there a need for extra airport capacity? No says GACC in their response to Sir Howard Davies
Date added: October 17, 2013
In his speech on 7th October, Sir Howard went carefully through a list of reasons why more airport capacity in the south east is not needed, before concluding – in the second part of his speech gave his preliminary conclusion that a new runway would be needed. His speech is out for consultation until 31st October. In their response, GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) say there is no need for a new runway. A few of their reasons include deficiencies in forecasts of future numbers of flights and passengers; also that over the past 20 years the number of passengers per aircraft had been increasing by 2% a year but DfT forecasts only assumed a 0.2% annual increase in future. GACC suggests the use of larger aircraft could be encouraged if airports based their landing charges on a per aircraft basis rather than, as at present, on the aircraft size and per passenger. GACC says the environmental disadvantages of each potential runway site may be so great that they should and will influence the decision as to whether or not extra capacity should be provided. There would also be adverse north-south in-migration problems.
Sir Howard Davies speech gives provisional support for a new south east runway – but shows how borderline the decision would be
October 7, 2013
In a speech in central London Sir Howard Davies set out what he described as the Airports Commission’s “emerging thinking” after their first 11 months of work. He said it ” it would be helpful at this stage to set out some of our early thinking on the issue of overall capacity.” He said: “Our provisional view…. is that additional capacity will need to be provided, alongside an overall framework for managing emissions growth, if we are to deliver the best outcomes in both environmental and connectivity terms.” Also that: “…our provisional conclusion from this analysis …is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south east of England in the coming decades.” He first went through 4 sets of arguments against a new runway (less future demand for air travel than anticipated; future demand can be met by existing capacity; carbon emissions from growing aviation could breach UK climate commitments; regional airports could take the extra demand). He then gave explanations for each why he believed the optimal solution would be more runway capacity. He said, on the guidance from the CCC on aviation CO2 emissions needing to be restricted that: “We are in the process of updating the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis and will present our findings in our Interim Report”. Comments on the speech are welcomed by the Commission until 31st October.